Behind the scenes of a Major League trade


Welcome to this week’s edition of National Matters with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. This week, Rizzo and Nationals beat writer Ben Goessling got together to take down some thoughts on the process behind how a trade comes together.

Stay tuned though as this will actually be the first of two entries on the subject - in his next post, Rizzo will take fans behind the scenes to show how the deal with the Pirates for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett came together last summer.

But for now, Rizzo shars some insight on how he goes about making trades:

Different deals happen different ways. What has to happen is, there has to be interested parties on both sides. And really to backstep a little bit and preface that, for every trade you make, there are hundreds and hundreds of trades you don’t make. They’re very difficult to make nowadays, because there’s so many things that go into these trades: Service time, obviously the financial package that’s going on, the players you give up - you don’t want to dip too deep into your prospect list.

With that said, trades happen all different ways, but they start with two interested parties. I’ll get trade recommendations from our scouts out in the field all the time. One scout may say, “The San Francisco Giants are looking for a relief pitcher.”

And then I’ll go through my list and look at the history of the discussions I’ve had with the general manager of the Giants - I have a log in a notebook. I’ll say - and this is all hypothetical, of course - ‘Well, in the Winter Meetings, he mentioned three or four of our relief pitchers, and they have an abundance of middle infielders, let’s say.’ So then, if the match works, and I figure out, ‘I’ll take this player for one of our relief pitchers.’

And then I’ll place a call - it’s usually an exploratory call, saying, ‘Do you have any interest in any of our guys? What are you looking for? What’s your team trying to do?’ And if there’s interest, then it gets a little more specific.

He’ll say, ‘Yeah, we’re looking for bullpen help. I know you guys have four right-handed relievers. We have some interest in Player X. Would you entertain moving him?’ And I would say something like, ‘No, not really, he’s a vital part of our organization. But possibly Player Y, we would move.’ Then, as it gets a little more momentum, you get really specific. You kind of have to stop posturing and go into the meat of the trade.

Then some trades involve an extra step - if there’s a certain amount of monies that are gained or lost from a club, that has to go through another process. With the Nationals, my philosophy is, we always have a physical of the player we trade for, and that takes some time to set up an actual physical. By the time you hear about a trade, it’s probably been in the works for quite a few weeks, if not months. There are a couple instances where a trade can take four or five days or a week. But those have to be very specific and so focused that they happen really quickly.

In these conversations with other GMs, I’ll find out who he’s interested in and who he’s asked about. I’ll just jot down notes to myself, and I’m sure he does the same thing on his end. So we have a log of what we’ve spoken about, where his interests are, what his surpluses are and what his needs are. I have a notebook of all 29 clubs, and I’ve spoken, one way or another, with all 29 GMs sometime this year. When I see a match, you go in and you have a running dialog with them in those weeks you’re involved in it.

Scouts are a big part of the way I do it. I’m lucky enough to have scouts that have been doing it for a long, long time. So they have contacts where they either get from what they’re watching, or they get it from a manager, a front-office person or one of the coaches who will say, ‘You know, we really could use a shortstop.’ He’ll make a mental note of that, and let me know, ‘They really need a shortstop. They haven’t mentioned anything about a trade, but they really need a shortstop.’ And if we have an abundance of shortstops, we may give them a call and say, ‘What are you looking for? What do you have? We’ve got a couple of good shortstops.’ And the other GM will go, ‘Oh, we may have a need for one.’ That’s how it gets going. Ron Schueler was a general manager for 10 years. So when he goes out, he knows just about every general manager and front office guy and coach and manager in the game - as do five or six of our guys. They’re well into the inner circle of a lot of these clubs.

It’s a vital part of scouting. You have to be good at looking at the player on the field and saying, ‘Yes, this guy’s going to be this, this and this, or this guy can’t do this, this and this.’ That’s important. But nearly as important is the ability to get the information on the players - the makeup, the off-the-field information, his family life. We get all this information, which is nearly as vital as the actual performance on the field.

In a given week, I’d say I have several conversations about trades. We’re constantly emailing and texting each other about little ideas - ‘Any interest in this?’ He’ll get back to me, ‘No, not at this time.’ You can’t address every little flippant note a guy gives you because it takes too much time. And until you really get into a trade discussion where things are getting serious, you can’t afford to put that much time into something that doesn’t have many layers to go. But we’re in contact quite a lot. There’s kind of a group of guys that, at this time of year, you may be talking to this bunch of guys more than the whole, because they seem to meet the needs you have.